Odin is the All-Father, he is the creator of mankind, and is the father of many of the Aesir gods, including Thor, Baldur, Vidar, Vali, and others. But what of the other races of gods, for example, the Vanir, what is their origin and bloodlines?
The little information that survives about the father of Odin, Borr, may reveal some information about the origins of these other beings.
Borr, Son of Buri
Borr is the son of Buri, the primordial ancestor of all the gods. According to the Norse creation story, both Buri and Ymir emerged in different ways from the primordial waters.
Ymir became the progenitor of all the giants, with many of them springing from various parts of his body. And Buri became the progenitor of the Aesir gods, giving birth simply to Borr.
While both Ymir and Buri were able to give birth alone, without the need for a mate, the same does not seem to have been true for their children. Both male and female giants sprung from Ymir, and they were able to “go forth and multiply”.
As the only offspring of Buri, Borr sought his mate among the giants, forming a relationship with the giantess Bestla, who gave birth to three children, Odin, and his brother Vili and Ve.
Borr as Mannus
Aside from this information about his birth and his role as the father of Odin, no other information is preserved in the Norse sources about Borr. However, the Norse gods are closely related to the old German gods.
The nineteenth-century German scholar Jacob Grimm suggested that Borr should be equated with the German deity Mannus. This god is mentioned by Tacitus in his Germania, written in the first century. According to Tacitus, Mannus plays a parallel role to Borr in the creation story told by the German tribes that he encountered.
Tacitus describes Mannus as the son of Tuisto, a god “brought forth from the earth” in a similar way to Borr’s father Buri. Mannus is then the progenitor of all three of the Germanic tribes, the Ingaevones, Herminones, and Istvaeones, via his three sons.
If this conflation is accurate, this might hint at the origins of some of the other divine races mentioned in Norse mythology.
Perhaps, just as Odin is the progenitor of the Aesir gods, Vili and Ve were the progenitors of some of the other divine races, such as the Vanir gods, as their origins are not otherwise explained. This might also explain why Vili and Ve are never mentioned when the parentage of any of the other Aesir gods is discussed.
It would make sense if the three sons went on to give birth to and lead different lines of divine beings. In early times, the Vanir gods and the Aesir gods seemed to live pretty close together and have a lot of interaction, though this did eventually result in the Aesir-Vanir war. Though this was later resolved, with Vanir hostages sent to live in Asgard, among them Freyr and Freya.
Husband of Beslta
We know about as little about Bestla as we do about Borr. She was a giantess who was the daughter or the granddaughter of the giant Bolthorn. So, unlike Borr, who is only one generation removed from the primordial beings, Bestla seems to be a few generations removed from Ymir.
Her name may mean “bark” in Old Norse, which has led some scholars to suggest that she was the personification of the bark of the world tree Yggdrasil. But the meaning of the name is by no means certain, as it seems to be a very old word.
There is some evidence to suggest that Bestla is also the sister of Mimir. Mimir is a very wise being, who is never described specifically as a giant but certainly could be.
This would be interesting, as, at the conclusion of the Aesir-Vanir war, it was Mimir who was sent to the Vanir as a hostage, alongside Hoenir, who was made the Vanir chieftain. The sources suggest that Mimir’s wisdom was so greatly respected that he was sent to be Hoenir’s counselor. But if he was the uncle of Odin, this may also have been part of his value.
However, the Vanir perceived that Hoenir was not an intelligent leader without the counsel of Mimir, and became upset that they had been sent such a useless hostage. They also began to suspect the threat that Mimir might pose to them. While Hoenir’s fate is unknown, the Vanir beheaded Mimir, and returned his head to Odin.
According to the story, Odin then placed the head of Mimir at the foot of Yggdrasil, where he magically preserved the head and restored its power of speech. There the head guards a well that is also a font of great knowledge.
If Mimir is indeed the brother of Bestla and the uncle of Odin, then Odin visited the head frequently to learn secret knowledge. This is confirmed by Odin himself who claims that his uncle taught him nine magical songs.
Origin of the Species?
What do you think? Do you think that Borr could be the missing link that helps us understand how the other divine races sit alongside the Aesir and the giants?